The Scoop on Evidence in Our Agreements

I read a great piece last week from Scientific American magazine about ingenious sources of data.  The article highlighted research trying to understand the interplay of large predators and domesticated “prey” in human-dominated landscapes.

The methodological question comes down to how do you find out what the large predators are eating?  Some researchers have tagged the wild predators to see where they go, while others have filmed their activities using motion-detection “camera traps.”  While data rich, these methods present significant risks.  Tagging requires interacting with the wild animal, which is dangerous to the animal, the trapper and tagger, and typically gives data on some individual predators, not the population of them.  Camera traps, while less risky for the researcher, need to be put up in specific locations, missing lots of places where predator and prey might interact.

Then comes the creativity of the researchers highlighted in the Scientific American piece.  They asked a different question, to get to the same behavior.  Instead of asking how to observe the predators eating prey, in the moment, they asked how to observe what the predators ate.  Their answer?  Poop.  That’s the scoop.

They blocked off statistically significant areas to look for scat, and then they surveyed those areas, finding, bagging, and labeling each one they found.  No risk that two different animals participated in the same piece of scat.  Nature helps that way, so the researchers knew that the scat came from one predator.  Through straightforward scat analysis and DNA analysis, they knew what animal the predator was and what prey it had consumed.  Very low risk and greater representation of the overall population.  An ingenious source of data that was relatively easy to collect.

Applying the same thinking to the evidence collected about agreements in groups of people, specifically using Agreements Evidence Maps (see earlier blogpost), what evidence is relatively easy to collect, represents the general behavior being sought with lots of rich data about individual behavior, and intervenes minimally in the daily lives of the people being observed?  If people do make specific agreements, what artifact of evidence, what residue, must be left behind?  For example, if we do indeed believe that being very supportive of your growth and development is important, then what must be also visible?  I suggest that we would see that we actually spend time, on a regular basis, talking about your development.  We would also probably have expectations about what you are learning along the way, and we would have ways for you to share that.  Observable artifacts left behind.

Again, if the agreements are there, what artifacts must also be there?  That’s the scoop.

Please share your reflections, inquiries, or suggestions about this inquiry into evidence of human agreements in the comments section here.

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Zooming in on Your Agreements, from 500,000 ft to 50 ft

Most of us accept that the experiences we have every day are conditioned by realities we have to accept: “That is just the way things are.”  At the level of each experience, this certainly seems to be true.  I get paid for the work I did today, because that is what my labor contract specifies.  I pay for groceries with dollars, because that is what the federal bank provides as currency.  There is not much choice in this, from what I can see at this level.  What can I see if I zoom out from this 50-foot view of the specific experience to a 5,000-foot view of the system that directly influences my experience – from a view of the proverbial tree to the forest?

5,000-ft view through four lenses

From the 5,000-foot view, I can see that a series of assumptions determine the resources I have access to, who decides and enforces the rights of access to the resources, what is valued in my experience, and how I interact with others.  Is this system consistent everywhere always or is it dependent on higher level assumptions?  Zooming out to the 500,000-foot level, I can see the whole region within which those assumptions lie, observing that in different areas the assumptions are different.

500,000-ft view through four realms

From this 500,000-foot view, I see four realms of inquiry that have intrigued humanity for thousands of years: the economic, political, cultural, and social.  These four realms describe who makes and enforces the rules (politics) using what criteria (culture) about how people interact (social) and what people produce and exchange (economics).  I can see that in different regions of the earth and in different times, there have been very different ways that people have responded to what they see in each of these four realms.  There are many political systems, cultural systems, social systems, and economic systems over the time and space of human existence.  What do these four realms look like when I zoom back down to the 5,000-foot level of the specific system I live in?

Zooming in on your agreements

There seems to be a certain logical process to these four realms, at the 5,000-foot level.  What is there (who has what), who decides, with what criteria, and how do people interact?  The economic, the political, the cultural, and the social.  There are specific rules that I can see at this level that determine how we deal with the economics of resources, the politics of decisions, the culture of values, and the sociology of organization.  In earlier blogs, I have described these as four lenses (resources, decision, value, organization) through which I can see my experience.  Through these lenses, I begin to see that what seem like fixed rules – that’s just the way it is – vary significantly from one system to the next.  If they vary so much, then maybe they are not fixed rules, rather simply agreements that I have unconsciously accepted in my daily experience at the 50-foot level.

Is there only one job I can have?  Do I have to accept the conditions of the contract?  Is there only one currency I can access for getting my groceries?  When I look around, at other systems, I see that there are many options.  Other people have developed other responses, other agreements, when they looked from the four realms (500,000-ft view) through the four lenses (5,000-ft view) at what they wanted to experience on a daily basis (50-ft view).  They look at their work differently.  They have different conditions for their work.  They use different forms of currency.  I begin to see that these are all choices.  Choices designed at the 5,000-ft level, which I experience at the 50-ft level.  Choices that are guided by an evolution of what can be seen from the four realms at the 500,000-ft level.

50-ft view through the experience of my agreements

Daily life happens at the 50-ft level.  In that daily experience, someone decides and enforces who has access to what resources and how we interact, using some specific criteria.  The quality of these factors directly influences the quality of the vibrancy I experience.  If I want to experience greater vibrancy in that daily life, it seems important to occasionally zoom out to the 5,000-ft view to look through the four lenses at the system that influences my experience.  And, every once in awhile, it seems important to zoom out to the 500,000-ft level to examine the lenses I am using to design the system.

Maps for each level

To work with these three levels, we need a perspective, a theory of how they relate.  As Albert Einstein said, “Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is the theory which decides what can be observed.”[1]  Cartographers have provided theory-based maps for each level.  Ecosynomics shows how the maps of these three levels fit together.  At the 50-ft level, we can use “agreements maps.” At the 5,000-ft level, we can use the four-lenses map.  At the 500,000-ft level, we can use the four-realms map.  These maps can inform what we see, as we zoom in and out, and the agreements we consciously choose to experience in our daily lives.


[1] Albert Einstein quote, as related by Werner Heisenberg, cited in Salam, A. (1990). Unification of Fundamental Forces. New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 99.